Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey and Bonnieux

Trip Start Sep 24, 2009
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Trip End Oct 04, 2009


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Flag of France  , Provence,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It was quite a study in contrasts moving from the bright, festive colors of Roussillon to the severely plain, unadorned walls of this medieval Cistercian Abbey. We originally sought out the Abbey, in part, because in most of the pictures of it, it is surrounded by lavender fields which the monks tend to support their order. Alas, it is too late for lavender! Still, the building is very majestic and sits alone in the bottom of a narrow valley with high cliffs on either side. The Abbey was founded in 1148 and construction and growth continued into the 13th century. It is still in use today, it's brothers having celebrated the 850th anniversary back in 1988. We took a very quiet tour of the Abbey. Silence is demanded as that is one of the vows of the brothers. When we were in more public areas the tour guide described the history of the order and the buildings in French. Lucy followed along interestedly. I looked for mason's marks on the blocks because I don't speak French. Ironically, the one place we went where we could not get a tour in English was the one that was the least interesting be be on a tour in without hearing the tour guide. In any other place one could entertain oneself by looking at paintings or sculptures or architectural features. Not here! Lots of white limestone blocks. Clear glass in the few windows. I challenged myself to try and come up with interesting photos to pass the time. The central cloister did have a little garden, so that made up for missing the one yesterday in Aix.

If you wish to visit the Abbey yourself during the high season, visit the web site to purchase tickets in 48 hours in advance. The tours are very limited and are only in French.  An additional note of warning: it seems that the brothers don't want their visitors to enjoy any unnecessary comforts or amenities either.  There were inexplicably no toilet seats in an otherwise modern bathroom.

Note to the contemplative: If you wish to temporarily join the Cistercian's community of prayer for a while, the monastery has guest quarters if you write to Frere Hotelier.

We thought we could fit one more town in before sunset, so we flipped through the guidebook and decided on Bonnieux. It is another town perched on the top of a mountaintop. We drove partway in and then hiked up winding streets to the top where the "old church" stands. Of course this church only became the old one when the "new church" was built in the 19th century. We were very surprised to find that the view from Bonnieux is very different from the other towns. It is a little further south and east and is surrounded largely by a cedar forest, so we got a very different, but equally beautiful view from some of the others we enjoyed throughout the day. We had no luck getting snacks, and it was too early for dinner, so we had to cut our visit a little short or starve. On the way home I spotted a boulengerie and we picked up bread, tarts and Lucy got something with nuts.
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